In cardio-kickboxing the other night, I sidekicked the woman next to me full strength in the head. I didn't do it on purpose, but I wasn't sorry it happened.
At the beginning of class, when she put her step next to mine, I said "I don't think there's enough room." She gave me a skunk face and said, "There's PLENTY of room." I guess I proved my point.
I wouldn’t consider myself an angry person, but I do get angry when people get in my way. Slow walkers. Street spam (No, I do not have a minute for Greenpeace). Pushy people on the train. At Starbucks, where I sometimes go to write, it is me versus anyone who dares interrupt my concentration. People talking on cell phones. The mother pacifying her fussy child. Anyone with a loud, annoying laugh.
Sharing public space, I understand, means respecting other people’s needs. I tell myself I have no right to be mad. I tell myself to be nice. Still, I can’t help it. I’m not nice, I sometimes think. I’m not the type to politely ask someone to quiet down or to simply move my seat. I am the type to silently fume.
I’d never hit someone before. I must admit, it felt good. The rest of class, I spun and kicked with an extra flair. I took guilty pleasure in my accidental act of aggression, having solidly determined that it hadn’t been my fault. While I am sure I hadn’t said it in the nicest way, I had asked her to move over. The fact that I am 5’3” and I was able to make contact -- clearly, bitch was up in my grill.
And so, after class, when she had the nerve to confront me for her not having moved over -- I was irate. After class, the woman cornered me in the dressing room to let me know that she thought I had "anger issues" and that she did not appreciate me taking them out on her. I may have anger issues, I am thinking now, but that does not explain why she got the kick to the head-- it was an accident!-- only, possibly, why I enjoyed it so much.
It was one of those moments when you think of a thousand better things to say the second it’s over. I felt the blood rush to my face. My voice was shaking, like I was going to cry. I think I sputtered something about my getting to class 15 minutes early to lay claim to my spot (second row, center) and her squeezing herself in right "on time" (which, I made clear, was, in my opinion, late). Not my best logical defense, I realized almost immediately after the moment had passed.
I was two blocks down the street -- thinking of all those better things I could have said -- when I turned around and went back. Yes, I went back! By then, she was in a towel on her way to the shower.
“Excuse me,” I stopped her, "I just want to say..." Tat tat tat. Out came everything I had rehearsed in my head the whole walk back, still not quite right. I'm writing about it now because I can't get her (ugly! stupid!) face out of my brain, which makes me think that I was perhaps, in some way, wrong. I hate being wrong! Especially when I am so sure that I’m right.
Maybe because she was in a towel, literally stripped of certain defenses, when I approached her the second time, she looked afraid. For a moment, I felt sorry for her. I felt myself soften, the anger dissipating. I thought, for a moment, we just might work it out... until she announced to the whole dressing room that I had kicked her not once but three times.
“Three times!?” I repeated.
I had only, to my knowledge, kicked her once. If I had kicked her before that -- "Then why didn't you move over??!" I was furious again.
“Go away,” She clutched the towel to her chest, curling her lip. “I don’t have time for you. You’re a mean little girl."
I took little as a compliment -- we were, after all, at the gym. But mean? I am not a mean girl! I wanted to scream. I am the girl that the mean girls would pick on! In elementary school, I am the girl who, according to my peers, "smelled like wet dog." The girl who wore homemade clothes that involved no sewing (pull a knee-length skirt up, add belt and voila!) I was the girl that girls are not meant to be: dirty, poorly dressed, hungry -- in a word, poor. I grew up in a working class neighborhood, went to predominantly black high school where even poorer city kids were bussed in and it was every man for themselves. Getting where I got from where I came from took getting some dirt under my nails. Perhaps tough got in my blood.
Instead of saying all this, I barked at her one more time about how she should’ve moved over, and then I turned around and left. The whole incident reminds me of an Elissa Schappel story, like one from her book "Blueprints for Building Better Girls.” Her female characters are dark and damaged. They are the kind of women who regret motherhood, who drink too much and slut around and kick other girls in the head.
I don't want to be the kind of girl that kicks other girls in the head but perhaps that's who I am, if only (typically) in my fantasies. In my fantasies I don’t feel sorry. I feel the way I imagine men would feel in situations like this: I feel nothing. In other fantasies I am obedient, polite, with perfect highlights and beauty queen politics. A good girl, I never feel angry at all. It is my deepest wish to be everything that girls are meant to be all at once which is, of course, impossible. It is when I so obviously fail to be who I am supposed to be that I feel guilty, and it’s feeling guilty all the time for just being who I am that makes me so mad.
Some days later, I’m still not quite over it. I’m not mad anymore. Instead, I’m... something else. They say all anger stems from helplessness. This makes a lot of sense. Thinking back to this moment the feeling of anger melts into the feeling of helplessness, the memory reminding me of a dream I had as a child. I am screaming and screaming and screaming but no sound is coming out.
In the end, I look like the crazy one. Not just to the woman who had angered me, but to every woman in the room. No one knowing what had transpired earlier, it must’ve looked as though I had sought this woman out to yell at her for my kicking her in the head. What kind of woman would do such a thing?
When I go to class next week, I am thinking maybe I should apologize. But for what?